Legislative Proposals to Address National Park Service Deferred Maintenance

Updated July 16, 2020
Legislative Proposals to Address National Park Service
Deferred Maintenance

Congress has debated ways to address the National Park
Treasury as miscellaneous receipts. In general, the deferred
Service’s (NPS’s) substantial backlog of deferred
maintenance funding proposals would draw from the
maintenance—maintenance that was not performed as
energy revenues that are credited to the Treasury as
scheduled or as needed. NPS’s maintenance backlog has
miscellaneous receipts after other distributions are made.
grown in the past two decades and is estimated for FY2018
(the most recent year available) at $11.9 billion. Its impacts
For example, H.R. 1957 would deposit annually into a
on park resources and on visitor enjoyment and safety have
federal lands deferred maintenance fund 50% of federal
been ongoing issues of concern for some Members of
energy revenues credited as miscellaneous receipts in the
Congress, as they seek to preserve the parks as “crown
Treasury, up to a cap of $1.9 billion, over five years . The
jewels” of the nation’s public lands system and to ensure
bill would provide 70% of the funding to NPS; 15% to the
their continued contribution to the outdoor recreation
U.S. Forest Service; and 5% each to the U.S. Fish and
economy. Legislative interest has focused primarily on
Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the
federal funding sources to address the backlog, although
Bureau of Indian Education for its schools.
some stakeholders have suggested the backlog could be
meaningfully reduced without major federal funding
Budget and Appropriations Issues
increases—for example, by reprioritizing current uses of
H.R. 1957 and other 116th Congress bills would make the
NPS discretionary appropriations, improving the agency’s
deferred maintenance funding available to the NPS and/or
capital investment strategies, or increasing the role of
other agencies without the need for further appropriations
nonfederal partners in park funding and management.
(i.e., as direct, or mandatory, spending). Budget
enforcement requirements could potentially present
Legislative Proposals for an NPS Fund
procedural hurdles for these proposals. For example, in
Multiple bills in the 116th Congress would establish a
scoring H.R. 1957, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
special fund to address NPS deferred maintenance (and, in
estimated that the provisions related to the deferred
some cases, deferred maintenance of other land
maintenance fund would increase direct spending by more
management agencies as well). One bill—H.R. 1957—has
than $9.5 billion over 10 years. Including other provisions
passed the Senate and is scheduled for floor consideration
in the bill (which relate to the LWCF), CBO estimated that
in the House. Other 116th Congress bills (e.g., S. 500, S.
the total direct spending increase would be approximately
2783, S. 3422, H.R. 1225, H.R. 4294) also would provide
$17.3 billion. Therefore, given existing budget rules, the
funding for NPS deferred maintenance.
bill could be subject to certain budget points of order if not
offset (for example, by cuts in direct spending or increases
Most of the proposals would draw on revenues from energy
in revenue). A budget point of order was raised during
development on offshore and/or onshore federal lands as
Senate consideration of the bill but was waived by the
the primary source of funding to address the backlog.
required three-fifths vote.
Depending on the funding source specified in a given bill,
these revenues could be derived from both conventional and
In contrast, S. 1460 in the 115th Congress would have
renewable natural resources, including oil, gas, coal, wind,
created an NPS fund in which amounts would be available
solar, and others. Federal energy revenues are collected
to NPS only to the extent appropriated in annual
under various laws, at several stages of the development
discretionary appropriations laws. Although this approach
process. For example, companies may pay bonus bids to
would have avoided budget enforcement requirements
secure leases for energy development, rents on energy
associated with mandatory spending, any monies
leases prior to production, and royalties during production.
appropriated from the NPS fund in annual appropriations
laws would have counted against limits to discretionary
Federal energy revenues currently are disbursed to multiple
spending, such as the statutory limits established under the
recipients under various laws. Some of the revenues are
Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25).
shared with states and tribes; other portions go to federal
funds, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund
A number of stakeholders have contended that NPS
(LWCF; 54 U.S.C. §§200301 et seq.), the Reclamation
maintenance projects, which often require multiyear
Fund (43 U.S.C. §§391 et seq.), and the Historic
investments, are hampered by the agency’s heavy reliance
Preservation Fund (54 U.S.C. §§300101 et seq.). After
on discretionary appropriations, which are uncertain from
these and other distributions, the remainder of federal
year to year. These stakeholders seek greater funding
energy revenues are deposited in the General Fund of the
certainty through mandatory appropriations for NPS

Legislative Proposals to Address National Park Service Deferred Maintenance
deferred maintenance. Others contend that discretionary
in oil prices and energy use patterns attributed to the
funding provides an important level of congressional
evolving COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
oversight over each year’s funding that would not be
present if funds were provided outside that annual process.
Is a Deferred Maintenance Fund Needed?
NPS currently uses a number of funding sources, including
Tradeoffs in Uses of Energy Revenues
discretionary appropriations, park entrance fees, allocations
Most of the bills described above share the basic concept of
from the Department of Transportation, and donations, to
addressing deferred maintenance through federal energy
address deferred maintenance. NPS does not aggregate the
development revenues. Supporters of such proposals have
total amount it receives and uses each year for deferred
expressed the broad principle that federal land conservation
maintenance, but agency officials, as well as some
and maintenance are appropriate uses of monies derived
Members and other stakeholders, have stated repeatedly
from federal land development. In this respect, supporters
that available funding has been inadequate to meet
have likened the proposed funding to other congressionally
maintenance needs. In recent years, Congress has increased
mandated uses of federal energy revenues related to
NPS’s discretionary appropriations to address deferred
conservation purposes, such as the LWCF and the Historic
maintenance. NPS has stated that these funding increases,
Preservation Fund. In particular, they contend that NPS
while helping the agency with some of its most urgent
maintenance is a worthy use for these revenues given the
needs, have been insufficient to address the total problem.
park system’s highly valued natural and cultural resources
and its contributions to the outdoor recreation economy.
Although many observers agree that further action is
Supporters have further emphasized that these types of
needed, not all support addressing deferred maintenance
proposals would not reduce energy revenues shared with
through overall NPS funding increases. Some recommend
the states or with other federal programs under current law.
reorienting existing funding to prioritize maintenance over
other purposes. For example, some Members have
Opponents of proposals to use federal energy revenues for
suggested that Congress amend the LWCF Act to expressly
agencies’ deferred maintenance have cited varying reasons.
authorize or require use of LWCF funds for deferred
Some support using these revenues for other federal
maintenance. For more information, see CRS Report
programs and purposes. Others have questioned the concept
RL33531, Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview,
on the basis of environmental concerns, particularly related
Funding History, and Issues.
to the potential contributions of fossil fuel development to
climate change. They have contended that this approach
Some observers also have suggested that NPS deferred
may incentivize activities whose climate impacts would
maintenance could be at least partly reduced through
have negative consequences for parks over time.
improved asset management strategies. NPS has taken steps
over the past two decades to improve its asset management
Still others have contended that energy revenues currently
systems and strategies. The Government Accountability
going to the Treasury, a majority of which come from
Office, in its report GAO-17-136, recommended further
offshore oil and gas leasing, should be shared in higher
improvements. In the 115th Congress, H.R. 1577 would
proportions with coastal states, given costs incurred by
have required an evaluation of NPS’s Capital Investment
these states to support extraction industries and to address
Strategy, including a determination of whether the strategy
environmental issues such as wetland loss. They point out
is achieving its intended outcomes and any
that these states receive a lower share of offshore revenues
recommendations for changes.
than do states hosting onshore federal energy production.
Some Members of Congress have countered with the view
Other recommendations that might not require additional
that revenues generated in federal waters belong equally to
federal funding include those to incentivize private
all Americans and that their distribution should reflect
donations to NPS, address obstacles to NPS asset disposal,
national needs regardless of geographic location.
or increase the role of nonfederal partners in park
maintenance and management, among others. Some
Another question has been whether federal energy revenues
Members of Congress have expressed a preference for
remaining as miscellaneous receipts in the Treasury each
actions along these lines , whereas other Members have
year (after other distributions are made) would be sufficient
questioned whether changes that do not include a
to have a meaningful impact on NPS’s backlog and those of
significant funding increase would be sufficient to address a
other agencies. Data from the Department of the Interior
backlog that stands at multiple billions of dollars .
show that federal revenues from natural resource extraction
that were credited as miscellaneous receipts in the Treasury
Further Reading
during the FY2010-FY2019 period ranged annually from
For additional information, see CRS Report R44924,
$2.2 billion to $8.2 billion, with almost all of these amounts
National Park Service Deferred Maintenance: Frequently
coming from energy-related activities. Whether future
Ask ed Questions, and CRS Report R43997, Deferred
years’ revenues would be similar to, less than, or greater
Maintenance of Federal Land Management Agencies:
than those of past years is uncertain and would depend on
FY2009-FY2018 Estimates and Issues.
multiple factors, including oil and gas prices, production
levels, and federal energy leasing policies, among others.
Laura B. Comay, Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
For example, future revenues could be affected by changes

Legislative Proposals to Address National Park Service Deferred Maintenance

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